Luka Modric is 36 years old. This is a fact that I am vaguely aware of, but not one I think about actively. The Real Madrid midfielder has been in my soccer-watching life for a very long time, dating back to his Tottenham days, and he’s been great-to-excellent all the while. Still, he is 36 years old. He should not still be able to do what he did to Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
Specifically, 36-year-old Luka Modric should not be capable of the skills and athleticism that led to Madrid’s second goal. On that play, he picked the ball up just outside his own box, dribbled through most of PSG’s midfield, then slotted a perfect through ball to Vinícius which set the Brazilian up with a half-chance on the counter-attack. When that failed, Modric again received the ball, this time back at the top of the box, and instead of falling over from exhaustion after his previous run, he slotted another perfect pass that left Karim Benzema wide open for the strike that equalized the tie and broke PSG’s spirit.
There’s a fitting poetry to how this goal, and this two-legged round of 16 tie, went. Real Madrid is a team stuck between two generations. While Vinícius (21), Éder Militão (24), Eduardo Camavinga (19), Rodrygo (21), and Federico Valverde (23) all represent the growing youth movement, the team still relies heavily on the aging likes of Modric, Benzema (34), and Toni Kroos (32). Conversely, PSG is a team ostensibly in its prime. Outside of old man Lionel Messi (34), PSG’s key players are all fully in their peak age windows: Kylian Mbappé (23), Neymar (30), Marco Verratti (29), Leandro Paredes (27), Marquinhos (27), Presnel Kimpembe (26), Gianluigi Donnarumma (23).
Yet in the match’s decisive moment—the 17-minute stretch when the game went from a 1–0 PSG lead to a 3–1 Madrid romp—it was Madrid that had the energy and verve necessary to turn the match their way. And no one had a bigger hand in that victory-powering jolt of energy and assuredness, demonstrated most clearly on that pivotal second goal, than Modric and Benzema, who have been doing it for years.
In sports as in life, time is undefeated. But that doesn’t mean resistance is futile. Thanks to modern training methods, dietary management, and professionalism standards, players like Messi and Benzema and Modric are proving that hitting your third decade doesn’t have to be the start of a sharp descent into athletic irrelevance. Sure, barring catastrophic injury, Verratti and Mbappé have more elite soccer to look forward to than Modric and Benzema, and one day Luka Modric will no longer be Luka Modric. But as the 36-year-old living legend showed on Wednesday, that day has yet to come.